Headed to the Palace
After Big Ten Titles hopes are lost to OSU, Spartans gain No. 3 seed, will face Valparaiso
MSU head men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo and junior center Adreian Payne look ahead to the NCAA Tournament.
At last, it’s time to break out the dancing shoes.
Following a semifinal exit in the Big Ten Tournament, the No. 8 MSU men’s basketball team (25-8) earned a No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region of the NCAA Tournament and will play Horizon League champion Valparaiso on Thursday at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Mich. If the Spartans win the opening game, they will play the game winner of No.6-seeded Memphis and the winner of the First Four game between Middle Tennessee and Saint Mary’s.
Louisville was named the No. 1 overall seed of the NCAA Tournament and also resides in the Midwest Region, rounding out the top four seeds with Duke, MSU and St. Louis. Other No. 1 seeds in the tournament include Kansas, Indiana and Gonzaga.
Following a brief watch party at Breslin Center on Sunday, head coach Tom Izzo said he’s ready to kick off the Big Dance, citing many benefits in staying close to MSU for the first weekend.
“I’m excited to be close to home,” Izzo said. “I think it’s got 90 percent positives; there’s always the 10 percent keeping players focused on — sometimes if you get them away it’s a little better, but to be here for our families, to be here for travel, to be here for hopefully a bunch of Spartan fans that get to go to the games and save cost, to be here for every reason is good.”
The NCAA Tournament berth marks the 16th consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament for Izzo, who has captured six Final Four appearances during the span. It’s not the first time MSU has opened an NCAA Tournament with Valpo — the last time came in 2000, when the Spartans went on to capture the national championship.
MSU is one of seven Big Ten teams to make the NCAA Tournament, including Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana and Illinois.
There was a relatively quiet reaction in the locker room upon the announcement of the Spartans’ destination — perhaps the result of a program-wide expectation to earn an NCAA Tournament bid.
However, junior center Adreian Payne said the team was excited to hear of its fate, but maintains a business-like mentality in anticipation for Valpo.
“We see where (we’re) at and we see who we gotta play, and we know what we gotta do to get better now,” Payne said. “We got some experience in the tournament and, you know, we gotta focus in and take it game-by-game.”
During the weekend, the Spartans fell to eventual champion Ohio State, 61-58, in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament and were forced to head home after a hard-fought affair. The Buckeyes went on to defeat Wisconsin in the final on Sunday, earning them a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
After a season of difficult conference matchups for the Spartans, Payne said the team is excited for the opportunity to take a crack at some new faces from around the country.
But with the success of mid-major teams this season such as Gonzaga, junior guard Keith Appling said it’s critical not to overlook the team’s first-round opponent.
“We have a great amount of respect for a team like Valpo because, in this tournament, it’s win or go home,” Appling said. “If you take any team for granted on any given night, you’ll be upset and be heading back home. That’s one of the things we don’t want to happen, so we gotta watch the film try to focus in for 40 minutes.”